Akron Zoo holds online 1st birthday party for snow leopard

By Craig Webb - Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

The coronavirus has forced everyone — including it seems animals — to be a bit creative when it comes to celebrating birthdays.

The Akron Zoo would have probably had a lot of hoopla and guests in party hats before the global pandemic to celebrate the first birthday of one of its star residents.

Instead Baya, the zoo’s snow leopard cub, was treated Thursday to its keeper in a party hat, a worker holding a cell phone camera and a Beacon Journal photographer and reporter to mark the milestone.

Don’t worry. Baya and mom Shanti didn’t appear slighted at all.

They were preoccupied by a number of wrapped boxes and paper mache balls scattered around their enclosure.

Since the zoo remains closed amid the pandemic, it hosted a live stream of the party on its Facebook page so fans could join in Baya’s celebration.

Some 500 kids and kids at heart joined in live and countless others watched it later on the zoo’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

They offered birthday wishes and posed questions to zookeeper Tyler McCullough about Baya and snow leopards in general.

McCullough assured them repeatedly that the colorful cardboard boxes and balls were not harmful for the pair and offered the cats some enrichment activity as they tossed them about and tore them shreds.

Both cats ended up with green moustaches as paint rubbed off on their fur.

McCullough said the paint also is harmless and the cats will clean it off themselves.

It is not uncommon, he said, for the zoo to mark birthday milestones with special treats for the animals.

For Baya, McCullough said, it included favorite foods for breakfast and dinner, including chicken, beef and even baby food.

It has been fun to watch Baya grow up since her birth at the zoo a year ago, he said. She has grown into a curious and happy cub.

“I like to say every day is the best day ever for Baya,” he said.

In the coming months, Baya will begin to ween herself from her mother’s side but for now the pair remain attached at the hip as the cub becomes more and more independent.

The zoo has remained closed to the public since March 17 and is still awaiting guidance from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine as to when it can reopen.

Since then, the zoo has hosted daily “Lunch and Learn” Facebook shows at noon to show off its animals and let folks - like they did Thursday with Baya - ask questions of the keepers.

Next week, it’s switching to a Tuesday-through-Friday schedule at 10 a.m. as the zoo begins to gear up for the day it will once again be allowed to welcome guests.

As with any live show, host and zoo spokeswoman Elena Bell said, there have been some unexpected moments, like the stare down with Ranger the alpaca, who she was convinced was going to spit in her face.

“We’ve had a lot of pooping on camera,” she said. “They are animals, after all.”


By Craig Webb

Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

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